Insurgents dig in; Ukraine tanks seen in the east
By Yuras Karmanau ,AP
April 16, 2014, 12:04 am TWN
IZYUM, Ukraine -- Pro-Russian insurgents dug in Tuesday across eastern Ukraine, fortifying positions around seized buildings and erecting new barricades even as Ukrainian troops and tanks set up outside one eastern city now controlled by armed men.
In Kiev, Ukraine's acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, announced an “anti-terrorist operation” to root out the separatists, but it was unclear how that measure differed from the one announced Monday, which resulted in no visible action.
Much of the focus Tuesday was on the eastern city of Slovyansk, 160 kilometers from the Russian border, which has come under ever more secure control of the gunmen since it was taken over last weekend.
An Associated Press reporter saw at least 14 armored personnel carriers with Ukrainian flags, one helicopter and military trucks parked 40 kilometers north of the city Tuesday. Other heavy military equipment appeared nearby, along with at least seven busloads of government troops in black military fatigues.
“We are awaiting the order to move on Sloyvansk,” said one soldier, who gave only his first name, Taras.
Government troops at a checkpoint there, located outside the town of Izyum, searched vehicles driving by for weapons.
Despite fears of a possible imminent assault by Ukrainian troops, the city appeared calm. Roads into Slovyansk were dotted with militia checkpoints, at least one with a Russian flag. Another bore a sign “If we don't do it, nobody will.”
Still, the threat the Ukrainian military posed to the highly organized, pro-Russian insurgents was unclear. One video posted online late Monday showed a hapless Ukrainian tank stuck in the mud in a field reportedly outside Slovyansk. Residents chased it on foot, shouting “Who are you going to fire at?”
The insurgents, many of them armed, continued to occupy government, police and other administrative buildings in at least nine cities in the country's Russian-speaking east of the country, demanding broader autonomy and closer ties with Russia. The central government has so far been unable to rein in the insurgents, and many local security forces have switched to their side.
Ukraine's security services on Tuesday identified a man it says is a Russian foreign intelligence agent who is running the pro-Russian operations in Slovyansk. It named him as Igor Strelkov, and said he also coordinated Russian troops in Crimea during the seizure of military facilities there.
Russia itself still has tens of thousands of troops massed along Ukraine's eastern border. Western governments accuse Moscow of fueling the unrest in eastern Ukraine and worry that any bloodshed could be used as a pretext for a Russian invasion, in a repeat of events in Crimea a few weeks ago. Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula after seizing it last month following the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russian president in February.